Mrs. Betsy Anne Van Riper Baker-Whitney was born on May 29, 1945, at the Bellevue Maternity Home in Schenectady, to Mary Elinor Van Riper and Karl Van Riper. She passed away on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, in Potsdam, her residence of over 55 years with family at her side. She is survived by her loving and witty husband, Byron, owner of the most wonderful laugh, and her two children, Kate Baker and Steven Baker, and their partners, Suzanne Schalow, and Diana Hernandez. She was as proud as she could be of her children and their partners; Kate and Suzanne own their own retail and restaurant business, and Steven and Diana are recently retired, after long careers in the corrections field. As well, she leaves behind a goat in cat’s clothing, her beloved Siamese (would it really be any other kind?), Cocoa.
Betsy was an observer. She was more comfortable on the outside looking in, than in participating. A longtime proofreader, reporter, photographer and editor, she looked at the world through words. And years after ending her editorial career, words continued to be her currency.
In 1975, she answered the call of then Courier-Freeman editor, Mike Billington, to become a proofreader, though she had never done this sort of work before. Long before spellcheck, she hand proofread and corrected everything in the Courier-Freeman except the classified advertisements. And after this painstaking work, the paper’s typesetters cut and pasted everything — literally. Betsy “graduated” to part-time reporter status. Then, fulltime reporter, fulltime photographer, and finally editor of the paper, a position and accomplishment she was proud of beyond measure. In order to earn the part-time photographer job, all the while knowing there was someone else at the paper with more experience, she locked herself in the darkroom one weekend, until she had learned to process film and develop photos. Needless to say, she was given the job.
The Courier-Freeman won a first-place award in the New York Associated Press contest for the newspapers size, for Betsy’s account of the volunteers who rescued a Clarkson student who had fallen though the ice at Ives Park.
In 1989, when the Courier became a daily, Betsy accepted a job with the New York State Department of State as Governor Mario Cuomo’s regional representative in the North Country. She also worked at North Country This Week/North Country Now, for the St. Lawrence County Historical Association, and was on the Board of Directors for the United Methodist Reporter. She was a transcriber for the Associated Reporters International, where she was instrumental in ensuring that an honest and clear account of the Rwandan genocide trials testimony was made available to attorneys prosecuting the case. She worked at three local churches: the Potsdam United Methodist Church, Norfolk United Methodist Church, and the Presbytery of Northern New York.
Betsy inherited a love of music from her Welsh grandmother, Aunt Jane Park; she loved both performing and listening, and she herself was a soprano. She graduated from Crane Department of Music in 1967, with a Bachelor of Science in Music Education. She was a member of the Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity for Women, was a founding director of the Potsdam Day Care Center, a member and vice president of the Potsdam Community Chorus, a member of the Lion’s Club since 1997 and a past President, a member of the Potsdam United Methodist Church since 1967, and also led the fight to help save New York state’s Campus Schools (where both of her children attended), as well as protested the NYS Power Authority’s decision to construct a series of high voltage power lines, believing that they simply were not safe for the community nor the environment.
Betsy survived a disastrous divorce in late 1979. Despite all the challenges of single motherhood, she raised two children on her own. This has and always will be a testament to Betsy’s sheer will to get through all obstacles.
Gratefully, Betsy had a second chance and was married to the love of her life, Byron V. Whitney, on Aug. 27, 2016. She and Byron enjoyed many long drives, visits to area restaurants, attending family weddings, eating lots of seafood in Boston and Marblehead, and spending time at camp in Raquette Lake. She cherished her camp and was most fortunate to spend the summer there this year, with her dear husband. She enjoyed many visitors over the weeks spent there, and was thankful that this time, one of them was not a giant bear.
Betsy was opinionated and idiosyncratic, also traits inherited from her Aunt Jane; she never hesitated to let her opinions be known. And in her retirement, she spent time making her voice heard and debunking fake news. She also enjoyed spending time with family and friends, chatting on Facebook, and right up until the end, as a final gesture of defiance, she gave a thumbs down to anti-abortionists who were marching down Main Street in Potsdam, as she was coming home from the hospital. A lifelong Democrat, Betsy did not shy away from advocating for social justice, human rights, and most especially, women’s rights.
Betsy is also survived by her sister, Karla Van Riper Kennedy, and her husband, John Kennedy; sister-in-law, Beverly Park; stepson, Steve Easter and his wife, Karen; and several nieces and nephews, as well as a plethora of extended family members (yes, “plethora,” one of Betsy’s favorite words). She is pre-deceased by her mother, Mary Van Riper; father, Karl Van Riper; aunt, Nina Park Bieber; and uncle, Kenneth Bieber. As well, a tiny pack of beloved felines spanning decades, and two canines (one much more well-behaved than the other).
Arrangements are with the Donaldson-Seymour Funeral Home in Potsdam, where friends may call on Saturday, Oct. 23 from 3 to p.m. Her funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 24 at the Potsdam First United Methodist Church, with Pastor Hattie Taylor officiating. Burial at Bayside Cemetery will be held privately.
In lieu of flowers, and any gracious gifts of food, the family asks that donations be made to The Potsdam Humane Society, Raquette River Lions Club, and the Potsdam United Methodist Church.
Friends may share memories and offer condolences to her family online at www.donaldsonseymour.com.